A group of researchers from the University of Minnesota collected data on how plants winter, and eventually got the so-called evolutionary tree that shows what biochemical mechanisms are used in the process. The results of the study were published in the Nature journal.
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Professor Peter Reich and his colleagues identified three main mechanisms to cope with the cold that plants developed in the process of evolution. The first mechanism is to shed leaves in the cold season to shorten the paths that would normally carry water between roots and leaves. The second mechanism is the transformation of leaves into thinner needles in coniferous plants to minimize the risk of air bubbles forming in the leaves in the cold. The third mechanism is to wait out the cold season by getting rid of the aboveground part of the plants. Many types of grass and shrubs do so, leaving only storage organs and seeds on the surface.
Based on the data obtained, the scientists have created a database of 49,064 plant species, and included more than 32,000 of them in the evolutionary tree, illustrating the mechanisms of evolution. According to the scientists, in the coming decades, this information will help build models of changes in plants’ vegetation systems associated with climate change.